Coolwater Challenge – Pine River Style

Pine River by Michigan Mac

Pine River by Michigan Mac

Imagine a weekend full of laughter, camp vibes, and sore shoulder muscles. Whether you’re a river expert or a beginner, the Pine River is something I believe every Michigander should add to their to do list. Think you have got what it takes?

“Nestled in a deep river valley and flowing predominantly through the Manistee National Forest, the Pine River beckons canoers, kayakers, and rafters from across the nation to experience its unspoiled beauty.

With several access sites and riverside campgrounds, you can spend a day paddling the Pine River or choose a multi-day trip. Whether you prefer to paddle a quieter stretch of river, a section with more rapids than any river in the Lower Peninsula, or some combination of the two, the Pine River accommodates paddlers of all experience and skill levels. ” – The Pine River

Some Interesting Facts About the Pine River:

  • Protection through both a Federal Wild & Scenic River Designation and Plan and a Michigan Natural River Designation and Plan
  • Navigable portion of the Pine is approximately 67 miles in length
  • At base flow, the mainstream of the Pine River averages two feet in depth
  • Average gradient of 12 feet per mile, and an annual average flow of 376 cubic feet per second

All information found on

Where To Camp and Rent Watercraft

Coolwater Campground - Michigan Mac

Coolwater Campground – Michigan Mac

In my past two experiences on the Pine River, we have always camped at the Coolwater Campground on the Pine River. This campground offers numerous campsites and cabins for multiple night stays, as well as overnight drop ins. The best way to go is to camp “rustic” for only $13 per person per night. There are showers, bathrooms, volleyball and basketball courts, and shore access to the river. My personal lot recommendation is lot 69 in the corner.

Coolwater Campground from the Coolwater Campground website

Coolwater Campground from the Coolwater Campground website

Coolwater Campground can be found at 9424 W. 48 1/2 Rd Wellston, Michigan 49689. It is located 20 minutes from Cadillac, 45 minutes from Traverse City, and only 30 minutes from Lake Michigan.

Lot 69 by Victoria Brooks

Lot 69 by Victoria Brooks

A couple important things to note:

  • Bring money for firewood as you must buy wood from the campground per Michigan law
  • Bring trash bags to tie to trees for easy cleanup – please keep our forests clean!

Please visit for more information regarding reservations.

We have also rented from Bosman Canoes for the past two years. They offer great rates around $45 for each canoe. You are also able to rent kayaks and tubes. The best part of camping at Coolwater is that Bosman will shuttle you to and from the campground for your paddling experience. Just make sure to tip the driver. If you choose to bring your own canoe or kayak, you may have to figure out where to launch yourself as well as purchase a permit for the watercraft.

Photo taken by Victoria Brooks

Photo taken by Victoria Brooks

Important things to note about taking on the river:

  • Bring a water proof case or plastic bag as you may get wet
  • Keep your permit with you at all times incase you run into the “law”
  • Take at least a 3-5 hour trip – the water does move fast!
  • Watch for sleepers…AKA big rocks that will dump you
  • No glass bottles
  • Technically only three alcoholic beverages per person, but if you are responsible…well, you know
  • Make sure to have a life jacket
  • Don’t forget sunscreen!
  • If you’re a rock collector like me, bring a strainer! There are Petoskey’s if you look hard enough!
  • Water shoes are key to survival
  • Remember, LESS is more on this fast flowing river
On the dune

On the dune

To make a reservation with Bosman’s please visit:

Some Pine River Natural History

“The primary influence on the Pine River is its geological history. The unique conditions left by the Pleistocene glaciers established the 265 square mile watershed through which the river is continuously carving a new path. Open meander bends offer paddlers a fascinating window into the geologic strata of the area that provide the framework for the plant and animal communities throughout the Pine River valley.” (

Some Human History

“The earliest evidence of human inhabitants dates to over 10,000 years ago when the nomadic Paleo-Native Americans followed herds of game animals through the area. By 500 BC, a more sedentary lifestyle was established in seasonal hunting and fishing camps where agricultural practices were also developed. The native tribes of Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Chippewa Indians that inhabited the area into the 1800s referred to the Pine as the “crooked river” and “spirit of the woods”. To date there are ninety-seven archaeological sites identified in the Pine River watershed.” (

Make this a part of your to do trips with a decent sized group of people and you will not be disappointed. Some of my best memories are from these trips. Share your experiences with me by subscribing, commenting, and liking!


2 thoughts on “Coolwater Challenge – Pine River Style

  1. Pingback: Summer Re-cap | Michigan Mac

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